Abraar Karan grew up in Calabasas, but he was born in India and regularly visited family there as a child. The poverty he saw fostered an interest in healthcare that led him to become a doctor.
Today the 28-year-old Karan, a resident of Boston, Mass., may be on the cusp of solving a problem that causes major diseases in poverty-stricken areas around the world: mosquitoes.
Karan, who graduated from Calabasas High School in 2008, is one of the co-founders of Hour 72+, a company that is developing an all-natural, long-lasting mosquito repellent that could vastly reduce the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria or the Zika virus.
The company’s product has effectively repelled mosquitoes for up to 72 hours, and Hour 72+ recently won the $75,000 grand prize at the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition.
“We took a polymer and bonded it to two existing natural mosquito repellents—oil of lemon eucalyptus and citronella,” Karan said. “Right now, the industry standard is DEET (diethyltoluamide), which absorbs into the skin and could have long-term neurological consequences. Our (polymer) is too large to absorb into the skin. It basically just bonds to the skin and comes off when the skin naturally sheds. (It) lasts up to three days at this point, and we’re testing it for even longer periods.”
Hour 72+ co-founder Andrew Rothaus developed the idea for the repellent in 2016 in response to an outbreak of the Zika virus. At the time his sister-in-law, who was trying to get pregnant, was living in Miami, the center of the outbreak. An expectant mother can pass the disease to the fetus, and it can cause severe brain defects in the child.
Rothaus and Karan had been roommates at Yale. Karan studied medicine and public health, and graduated in 2011. He went on to work in hospitals around the globe, providing medical relief to citizens of nearly a dozen countries.
When Rothaus came up with the idea for his business, he got in touch with Karan because his experience working in global health systems made him the ideal partner to develop and distribute the product.
“(Rothaus) reached out to me asking if his polymer could be used as a long-lasting mosquito repellent,” Karan said. “I told him, working in the global health sector, that’s huge, because there are so many epidemics and pandemics that are borne out of insects like mosquitoes, ticks, other kinds of flies and whatnot.”
Karan said he and Rothaus want to get their product into the hands of people that need it. They’re developing a business model where they would sell the product domestically and potentially use the profits to subsidize international distribution.
“There’s a lot of interesting public health questions. Would it actually reduce the rate of insect-borne diseases? I think the answer is yes,” Karan said. “How will the government distribute it? What’s the best way to integrate it into a health system? How much money do you save as a government investing in this? Do you save people from being sick and out of work? I feel like this is a perfect opportunity for me to take a lot of my academic interests and see them in the real world.”
Hour 72+ is still putting its product through safety testing, but Karan said he hopes to make it available sometime next year. The company has met with United Nations officials and global health experts to develop the most effective deployment strategy. Karan said they’re looking at starting pilot programs in Nigeria and Brazil, which both have major issues with mosquito-borne diseases.
Karan is excited by Hour 72+’s potential impact on global health, and he hopes his story can influence others in his hometown.
“When people hear I’m from Calabasas, they often say, ‘Oh, you’re from where the Kardashians live’ or other celebrities,” Karan said. “I feel like it’s important for kids and students to know that there are a lot of good opportunities out there and there’s a lot of other things that people from Calabasas are doing.”